Trench planting, which uses a rotation of three long trenches—one fallow, one filled with compost and one planted—is just one way to plant tomatoes. You can also plant tomatoes in large containers with cages, upside down from hanging buckets or in raised beds, with or without trellises. Each method has its own challenges. Caged, trellised and hanging tomatoes result in less fruit loss due to contact with the ground.
Strawberry Pots and Planters
Most tomato varieties grow well in strawberry pots and planters with a diameter of at least 12 inches, if you have limited space, according to Pamela J. Bennett of Ohio State University Extension Department of Horticulture and Crop Science. She recommends using plastic containers rather than clay pots, with drainage holes covered by a piece of screen.
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist Joseph Masabni recommends pixie, patio, Tiny Tim, saladette, toy boy, spring giant tumbling Tom and small fry varieties at a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch for container plantings. Add a cage or place the containers near a fence or trellis, and your tomatoes have better support and produce more and larger fruit.
Although many organic gardening sites recommend adding Epsom salts to containers to prevent magnesium deficiency, Urban horticulture specialist Linda Chalker-Scott from the Puyallup Research and Extension Center of Washington State University states that increasing the nitrogen content or reducing soil potassium are more effective against magnesium deficiency, because leaching carries magnesium away after every rainfall.
You can hang tomato plants upside down from a 5 gallon plastic bucket, as long as you choose a cherry, grape or small-fruit variety or provide a sling or other support for the fruit of larger tomato varieties. According to Atlanta gardener Michael Nolan, writer for Urban Garden Casual.com, “Bigger tomatoes are too heavy and put too much stress on the vine, causing it to twist and break.”
To grow tomatoes upside down, you have to drill a hole in the bottom of a 5 gallon plastic bucket. Support the bucket between two beams or sawhorses while you thread the roots of the young plant through the hole with the leaves hanging down. If you stuff bunched landscaping fabric, cotton batting or polyester screen around the roots, it prevents the plant from falling back through the hole. You can fill the bucket with 6 inches of shredded paper, top it with an inch of lawn clippings and rose mulch. Finish with 2 inches of compost or worm castings. Regular garden soil is too heavy and will cause your hanging rod to bend or break.
Raised beds make gardening easier for senior with low back pain and people with disabilities who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices to participate in gardening, according to Ron Wolford, Unit Educator for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
Heirloom gardener and Backwoods Home Magazine garden writer Alice Brantley Yeager recommends building your raised beds in the fall, when you can more easily measure the available space and decide how much room to leave between beds. She plants two rows of tomatoes in a 4-foot by 8-foot bed, leaving space between the beds for a mower or garden cart to pass when needed.
Because plants in raised beds get more sun, plant tomatoes close enough that the leaves and vines of one plant help shade its neighbor. Yeager recommends pruning just suckers and side shoots to prevent all the plant's energy going into producing more vines and leaves, while leaving enough greenery to shade the growing tomatoes.